Making Sense of Kanye: Reaction to NYC Media Day for “Yeezus”

Posted: November 27, 2013 by ericbernsen in Features, Interviews, Music
Tags: , , , ,

The past few days in the hip-hop world have been dominated by what I have called, “Yeezus Media Day.” Kanye West took advantage of his tour dates in NYC at Madison Square Garden and the Barclay’s Center to stop by powerhouse hip-hop radio stations Hot 97 and Power 105.1 for interviews. From the more light-heard conversation with long-time radio personality Angie Martinez to the more heated discussion with the legendary Sway Calloway, Kanye has always made his voice heard loud and clear. I will be doing individual recaps of Kanye’s Breakfast Club interview, his interview with Sway, as well as his appearance on the Juan Epstein podcast with Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds later in the year because they are all “top 10” worthy (stay tuned). But since I have just started this blog, I am taking the opportunity to voice my thoughts on the message Kanye West has been trying to send to the people and to corporations in the Yeezus era.

Now I am fully aware making sense of West’s outbursts may be a futile attempt, but I truly believe the subject matter of Kanye’s rants is important, influential, and can be relevant to all of us in our individual lives. Some would say that ever since Kanye West’s mom passed away, he has been a different person from his controversial interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMA’s to his back and forth jabs with the past two presidents. But that is something I would disagree with, as would Kanye. Kanye West has been the same driven, hard-headed, and ambitious individual ever since he became known after heavily contributing to Jay Z’s Blueprint album back in 2001. Back at that time, many people in hip-hop gave credit to West as a producer, but they did not believe he had the talent to rap along side the greats he was making beats for. While West is not one of the top lyricists in the rap game, he certainly proved those naysayers wrong over the course of time as he developed into a complete hip-hop artist.

Now in 2001, the Internet and social media did not even have close to the same effect as it does in 2013. Kanye is facing the same dilemma now in his aspirations to be a dominant and respected figure in the fashion industry, as well as whatever other creative space he so chooses to venture in. The elite people who have the utmost control in fashion do not seem to respect West as an expert in their field and are as Kanye would put it “marginalizing him.” I believe Kanye when he says he is being boxed in and being labeled as merely a rapper and I understand why that frustrates him. I get why Kanye West left Nike because CEO Mark Parker wouldn’t give him royalties for his product because he isn’t “a professional athlete.” Musicians like Kanye have just as much pull if not more than a LeBron James or Kevin Durant. But the issue is that athletes arrive on set for commercials and do what the director tells them to do….Kanye wants to be the director and have complete control over his art. This isn’t a bad thing and putting power into your own hands is a wise thing to do no matter who you are….and as we heard in Yeezus, Kanye will not be controlled.

They throwing hate at me
Want me to stay at ease
Fuck you and your corporation
Y’all niggas can’t control me
I know that we the new slaves
I know that we the new slaves

-Kanye West in New Slaves

With this in mind, Kanye has switched sides from Nike to Adidas for more creative control over his products, but here is where the walking contradiction of Kanye West is revealed. While Kanye raps “fuck your corporation”, he is moving from one to another in attempt to make his vision of being the next Steve Jobs and a “modern-day Michelangelo” a reality. I think most everyone can admit in this technological age, we are all drawn to and addicted to certain material items. Personally, I fully admit I constantly am on my iPhone checking Twitter, Facebook, etc on a daily basis like many people in the 16-25 age bracket. But I wouldn’t go as far as to saying I feel “enslaved” to it. However, Kanye West most definitely feels enslaved to fashion moguls and the corporations who he knows he needs to fulfill his desires. Now many such as radio hosts Charlamagne The God and Sway have asked Kanye this exact question….why don’t you just do it yourself? It seems like a logical question. Kanye has millions of dollars and certainly has the capabilities to start his own business. But Kanye doesn’t want a business…he wants an empire. Kanye doesn’t want to be a multi-millionaire….he wants to be a billionaire. It is obvious he is extremely frustrated with the fact that according to a Forbes story, only 7 out of the world’s 1,426 billionaire’s are African-American. And he knows that in order to do become #8, he has to be aligned with powerful people who can give him the proper platform to show off his creative ideas, just as Dame Dash, Jay Z and Rocafella did for his music.

As we witness Kanye’s public proclamations and promises, such as predicting himself to be the next “Steve Jobs or Walt Disney”, we arrive at the crux of West’s self-aware dilemma and what caused his outburst on Sway’s show. Kanye’s ambition is so monumental and is centered around so many different industries, it is an extreme challenge to balance everything properly. Kanye broke down his juggling act below:

“The thing that compresses me is time vs money, integrity, money and relevance because as I work on clothing more, I’m not rapping as much so I’m not in the middle of the Future mix because I wasn’t in that feature. If I’m not rapping as much, I’m not having as much finances I’m losing relevancy and relevancy is part of my power that allows my brand to be big.”

Now in between all of the yelling and ranting from Kanye West the normal person is exposed to through TMZ, he makes perfect sense with this statement. It was definitely not right for Kanye go at Sway like he did previously in the interview, flat-out disrespectful in my opinion. But Sway and Ye’ have known each other for a long time and what happened on the show was comparable to having a shouting match with your brother…you hate each other in the heat of the moment but at the end of the day it’s all love. While The Breakfast Club did have a solid interview with Kanye, you better believe Charlamagne and the rest of the crew were wanting that outburst on their show for the exposure and ratings. Ye knew this and chose to release his anger on Sway’s show…and now he is getting all the publicity. Nevertheless, as hip-hop heads know Sway honestly would have rather had a civilized conversation the whole time with Kanye and that is what makes him so respected…he values relationships over ratings.

But when all is said and done, Kanye’s blessing is still his curse. While his public outbursts gain him publicity, it does so in a negative way. People will read the headline about the Kanye/Sway interview and merely think “Oh there is Kanye being an egotistical asshole again.” I am not saying that is a wrong opinion to have, but the issue goes deeper than that. I think it is commendable what Kanye is trying to accomplish as a creative person in the powerful position he is in. Even if it seems like his endeavors are selfish, his comments about entrepreneurship are thought-provoking and worthy of discussion when filtered in the appropriate way. But as any successful businessman would tell you, knowing how to interact with people and showing a likeable personality is half the battle. This is something that Kanye is nowhere close to being a genius at. Some of the things he says are completely true, but no strong-willed person with any backbone will listen to you if they feel like they are being talked or yelled at. When Kanye made the critically acclaimed Watch The Throne album with Jay Z, West revealed one of his motivations behind the project was to learn from Jay-Z not musically, but as a people person. Hov has a smooth demeanor and a likeable way of carrying himself, even if he is consistently in the center of attention and constantly dealing with the vultures of the industry who only want his money. It is clear that Kanye needs more lessons in this aspect of his life.

“I want to be the Tupac of product”. This is a statement Kanye made multiple times this week. If you look back at old Tupac interviews, sure there were multiple times he lashed out due to legal and personal issues. But there is a reason why the man remains a cultural icon to this day and arguably the most famous rapper of all time. The way his voice and emotion resonated in his songs also applied to when he talked to people in regular conversations. He was a lovable guy who wanted to change the world through his music for the betterment of people in ghetto communities. Money and power weren’t his main motives.

Kanye West may be a musical genius, but if he wants the rest of his creative ambitions to be fulfilled and leave behind a meaningful legacy, there are still some things he needs to learn.

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